This one opens with a film sequence that somewhat resembles the faux newsreel footage used at the start of each series one episode. Mainwairing observes his troops mastering the art of disguise – variously they appear as haystacks, dustbins and gravestones – although each time he doesn’t seem at all impressed. “Very sloppy indeed” he mutters, only for one of the platoon (Walker, presumably) to hit back with “get knotted”. Wilson attempts to take the offending man’s name, but it’s somewhat difficult since they’re all disguised.
The sense of repetition in the scene is what makes it work (each time the audience is able to guess how the men are disguised) although this is neatly turned on its head at the end, when the expected hiding place (under the milk churns) turns out to be a bluff.
After this preamble (another of those DA moments that works as a self-contained setpiece) we get to the episode proper. It splits into two parts – Mainwairing attempting to instruct the platoon in the art of using a public telephone and their later observation of a crashed enemy plane in the reservoir.
Mainwairing’s misadventures in the phone box with Pike and Godfrey is a gift for Arthur Lowe, who’s able to wring every last comic drop out of Mainwairing’s discomfort (squashed against the side of the box with his hat and glasses askew).
We also get another slice of the Wilson/Mrs Pike soap opera – incensed that Mainwairing has forced her boy to use a nasty, dirty public phone, she turns her ire on Wilson. “You think you’ve only got to knock on my door and I shall come running”. Wilson counters with “I’ve never asked you to run”!
All the phone antics take up a fair chunk of the episode, but there’s still time for a dramatic closer, even though the audience is required to use their imagination. The Lion Has ‘Phones does have a small amount of film work, but the bulk of the episode was recorded in the studio – including all of the climatic reservoir scenes.
We never see the enemy plane, or any of the reservoir apart from a small studio grassy knoll, although I do like the searchlights which can be seen at the back of the frame. This may be a very simple lighting effect but it helps to create a certain atmosphere.
If you had to pick someone to ring GHQ, would you choose Jones? Me neither, but Mainwairing does, so poor Jones heads off to the phone box, where he first has a confusing conversation with the local cinema (when they tell him the name of the film that’s playing – One of Our Aircraft is Missing – he jumps to the wrong conclusion, as you’d expect).
That’s a good piece of comic confusion, but even better is his interaction with a cheerful telephone operator (Avril Angers). Having told Jones that she can’t put him through to GHQ – only ambulance, the fire service or the police – she decides that since no-one’s hurt or on fire or causing a disturbance (even though there’s a fair bit of gunfire) there’s nothing she can do to help and rings off!
Another familiar face making a brief appearance is Timothy Carlton as Lieutenant Hope Bruce of the Coldstream Guards (Mainwaring’s brave reply that he’s from the Home Guard is nicely delivered by Lowe). Hope Bruce dismisses Mainwairing and his troops very abruptly, but – thanks to Walker – our Home Guard heroes are the ones who will finally save the day.
Like the plane, this has to be done off-screen but it’s still satisfying as are the final words spoken in the episode. Wilson, for once, gets to utter Jones’ catchphrase about how they don’t like it up ’em in his own inimitable fashion.